In 1960, the Cuban architect Hilario Candela fled Fidel Castro’s communist regime and planted roots in Miami, where he accepted a role at the firm Pancoast, Ferendino, Skeels, and Burnham. He was tasked with designing a stadium along the city’s picturesque Biscayne Bay, drawing inspiration from the lush Brutalist structures in Latin America where gracefully curved raw concrete forms mimicked the tropical landscapes. In particular, he channeled the sweeping architecture of Havana’s Tropicana Nightclub, where five reinforced concrete arches and glass walls designed by Max Borges surround an indoor stage.
The result—a 6,566-seat concrete grandstand with a wave-like cantilevered roof that was considered a feat of engineering at the time, given how his plans were sketched on a yellow pad—became an instant landmark. Within a few years, Miami Marine Stadium started serving as a vitalizing force within the city’s thriving Cuban community. Not only did the stadium reflect the optimism of the 1960s as it hosted gigs by The Who, Gloria Estefan, and Queen, but over time locals dubbed it “the most Cuban building in Miami.”
Despite an illustrious history, the prized structure on Virginia Key has sat vacant since Hurricane Andrew swept through the city in 1992. It now faces an uncertain future as city commissioners will soon decide whether to allocate $61.2 million in revenue-bond financing for the building’s restoration. It’s not the first time the building has grappled with its future: After the hurricane exposed structural weaknesses that officials feared left it on the brink of collapse, signs pointed toward the wrecking ball. Candela rallied preservationists and community leaders to save the stadium, and studies soon found it was indeed structurally sound.
Little progress has been made since. City officials previously authorized $45 million toward restoration work in 2016 following a popular crowdfunding campaign organized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, but the funds recently expired due to the work’s slow pace. Candela died from Covid-19 in January, leaving his crucial voice excluded from the conversation. Soaring inflation and construction costs are complicating matters further, and despite the building’s recent designation on the National Register of Historic Places, some fear it will succumb to “demolition by neglect.”
Surging real estate demand has ushered in a new wave of glimmering high-rise towers and boxy mansions throughout the city. These flashy new structures often replace their history-laden forebears with little obstacles, such as the derelict Hotel Deauville, which rose to global prominence in 1964 after broadcasting a Beatles performance viewed by 70 million people. What results is a city with few historic sites, scant reverence for its past, and staggering income inequality—yet one undergoing near-constant reinvention in pursuit of the next gold rush fueled by transient residents enamored with big tech and crypto.
“Miami is a place where the land has always been more valuable than the building, and it’s always been a place where people come to reinvent themselves,” Beth Dunlop, the former architecture critic at the Miami Herald, told The New York Times. “When you have no shared history and no shared culture, you have no shared commitment to maintaining that history or that culture.”
Preservationists, of course, argue that Miami should hold onto its dearth of historic sites and community hubs regardless of the teardown trend. “Miami’s waterfront, with the exception of the beaches, is owned and dominated by wealthy people,” Donald Worth, an advocate for Miami Marine Stadium’s restoration, told the Washington Post. “At the Marine Stadium, everyone’s a VIP.”